Distance: 27-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 3100 ft
This outstanding route offers a variety of Santa-Cruz-area environments: rollers through open country, fast serpentining through splendid redwood forest, grand isolation over broken pavement and dirt, and moderate climbing on big, busy roads. There isn’t a bad mile in it. You cover 6 different roads, but the unmissable jewel is Old Santa Cruz Hwy, which is magnificent both climbing and descending. The entire ride is east of the great burn, so the woods are undamaged, and they’re as good as any in the area now that Big Basin has burned.
Take the Alma Bridge exit off Hwy 17 (accessible from the south only), drive to the Lexington Reservoir County Park and park there. There is no roadside parking between Hwy 17 and the park. There is a fee, but there is free parking in the dirt across the road from the park.
Ride down Alma Bridge Rd. It’s a wide two-lane roller, up and down on good new chipseal along the open sidehill paralleling the reservoir. Very nice riding. At the intersection with the improbably named Aldercroft Heights Rd., go R, cross the unremarkable eponymous Alma Bridge, and ride the short leg to Old Santa Cruz Hwy. Go L at the intersection with OSCH and begin the steady, easy climb up to Summit Rd.
This is as perfect a stretch of cycling road as I can imagine. The pavement is glass, the traffic is light, the trees are awesome, and the road contour is a perfect meander you’ll appreciate even more on the return descent. Savor this.
At Summit Rd. go straight across onto the unsigned (I think) continuation of OSCH. You are now going to drop without interruption for 3.8 miles, 3 miles of which is on fragments of pavement, rough dirt, and gravel. If you don’t want to do this (and I’m not implying you should), turn around and ride home.
Assuming we’re continuing on: The pavement is lousy from the moment you leave Summit. Shortly after starting down OSCH, take the clearly-signed Schulties Rd. to the R and descend to the creek. The road surface is chattery and can’t be called fun, but I did it on 25 mm racing tires and had no problems other than sore hands from braking constantly. I definitely wouldn’t want to ride up it.
The perks here are the forest and the isolation. The woods are dense, pristine, silent, and entirely empty of people. I love that stuff. Your mileage may vary.
Incidentally, when I was researching the ride I got reports on Schulties that ranged from 1) it’s a piece of cake to 2) it’s rough but doable to 3) it’s brutally rough and you’ll regret it to 4) it’s unrideable to 5) it’s blocked by landslides and impassable. The truth is #2. It is closed to cars, according to the sign, but any car could navigate it, while having little fun doing so.
At the bottom of Schulties, the pavement returns, there is a little group of houses called Laurel on maps, and there is an intersection, with your way, Redwood Lodge Rd., clearly signed. It’s hard to trust the sign, because it’s almost an 180-degree turn, but trust it anyway. Somewhere around this intersection it is reported that one can see one of the adits to one of the four defunct tunnels on the old train route from San Jose to Santa Cruz. The tunnels have been dynamited but the adits remain–a thing of much historical interest. I missed it.
Redwood Lodge Rd. drops briefly, crosses the creek, then begins the climb up the other side with a ferocious little pitch. Fear not—since most of the descending on Schulties is recovered by climbing on Soquel-San Jose and Summit later, the climb out of the canyon on RLR is (after that one scare) moderate and short. Very pretty, but slightly less isolated than Schulties because it services the population of Laurel.
RLR deadends at Soquel-San Jose Rd., the road we ride down in the Mt. Charlie Etc. ride. Now we go up (L). It’s pleasant climbing through a garden-like landscape on a reliable shoulder back up to Summit Rd. As you approach Summit, there is a sweet-looking little cut-off on our L, Merrill, which will let you skip some of Summit if you’re willing to add some climbing to your total.
Take Summit Rd. to the L and ride 3 miles (assuming you didn’t take Merrill) of shoulder back to Old Santa Cruz. These 3 miles may be tediously pleasant or hellish, depending on the traffic level and the temperament of the individual drivers on your day, but it’s mostly moderate rollers and it passes quickly. Summit is largely built-up commercial, and it’s the nearest thing to slog on the ride.
Go R on OSCH and get ready for one of the great descents. As I said, the surface is glass, the road is almost entirely empty of cars, the scenery is awesome, the road contour is perfectly designed for fast slaloming, and the pitch is just steep enough for serious speed without much braking. Wow. When I did it there was a pair of cyclists who seemed to be riding it over and over. I totally get that.
You’re moving fast so watch for the turn-off on the R to get you back onto Alma Bridge Rd. It’s very large and signed “Aldercroft Heights Rd.” Take it back to AMR and ride home.
Shortening the route: Ride Old Santa Cruz Hwy out and back. For a few more miles, add Alma Bridge Road.
Adding miles: You’re in the Santa Cruz area, so riches abound. The Soquel-San Jose and Summit legs are part of our Bean Creek/Mountain Charlie loop, though in the other direction. At the intersection of Old Santa Cruz Hwy and Summit you’re a short ride from the top of our Zayante Rd. ride, which bottoms out near our Felton Empire ride. And so on.